Paths to Gender Equality and Rates of Men's Lethal Violence

Rachel Bridges Whaley, Western Michigan University
Steven F. Messner, University at Albany

According to the feminist backlash hypothesis, an increase in gender equality is associated with an increase in male violence in the short term. A leveling of the relative status of women and men may increase perceptions of a threatened status quo. A desire to protect both men's privileged status and the dominant form of masculinity may result in an increase in men's violence. In an attempt to refine this hypothesis, we suggest that the dynamics underlying the production of a given level of gender equality may moderate its effect on men's violence. That is, we contend that the nature of the change in men's status moderates the effect of gender equality on male violence. Specifically, the positive effect of a given lefel of gender equality may be mitigated under conditions where men have experienced stable or increasingly good economic circumstances and may be exacerbated where men have experienced decreasing economic circumstances. We test these ideas with data for 191 U.S. cities that regularly complete the Supplemental Homicide Reports. Statistically, an increase in men's status between 1980 and 1990 should decrease the positive effect of 1990 gender equality on 1990 male perpetrated lethal violence, while a decrease in men's status over the decade should increase the strength of the effect of gender equality.

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Updated 05/20/2006